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August 18, 2021

Women are bearing the brunt of falling employment in the tech sector

The number of women employed in tech shrunk disproportionately in the second quarter of the year, suggesting the pandemic continues to adversely affect female employees.

By Claudia Glover

The number of women working in ICT in the UK fell 8.9% in the second quarter of the year, a rate far greater than the overall 1.35% drop in employment across the sector. The figures, released this week by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), appear to suggest that, as the country begins to emerge from a long period of Covid-19-related disruption, women’s careers continue to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Covid-19 drove down employment across the board over the past year, and September and November saw the largest number of redundancies ever recorded, according to a report from the House of Commons released in July.

Now, as the country begins to open up and more opportunities become available, some groups are returning to employment at a slower rate. Despite some progress since Q4 of last year, the National Women's Law Centre writes that the unemployment rate for women is still 1.8 times higher than the pre-pandemic figure of 3.1%, recorded in February of 2020. According to the Resolution Foundation, unemployed women have been re-entering work at less than half the rate of men – 15% as opposed to 36%.

Why are there fewer women in tech?

This pattern has also been seen in other economies around the world. Women often bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities, which may have hindered the ability of some to find new roles, but there are other factors at play too. According to the 2021 Women in Tech report released in March, women in tech are almost twice as likely as men to have lost their jobs or have been furloughed during the pandemic. One result of this is to exacerbate the gender divide in many workplaces. Seventy-two per cent of women in tech are regularly outnumbered in meetings, at a ratio of 2:1, and 26% of women report being outnumbered by 5:1 or more.

The representation of women in Big Tech jobs is similarly skewed, according to a report by Statista. Female employees make up between 29% and 45% of the total workforce of America's largest tech companies, with women accounting for less than 25% of technical roles (Amazon does not report gender figures for technical roles). This dilemma has been recognised by various bodies including the Global Acceleration Plan for Gender Equality and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The former has pledged $40m in new investments to boost women into roles in tech, and the latter announced a $2.1bn commitment to advance women's leadership, reproductive health and economic empowerment.

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In absolute terms, the sector that saw the biggest drop in female workers in the UK, according to the ONS data, was the public sector, with employment dropping by 104, or 2.09% (overall public sector employment fell 1.5%).

A combination of lack of pay and recognition could be partly responsible for this. According to a report released by the World Bank, women's wages are 86% of male wages in the public sector,  while they are also less represented in senior positions, occupying less than 30% of "senior official" roles despite filling 50% of clerical positions.

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